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Vince Gill refreshes classic country

Chautauqua Institution, Chautauqua, N.Y., August 17, 2012

Reviewed by Michael Rampa

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Country music isn't known for producing guitar gods, but Vince Gill is one of the best. The mild mannered Okie with the angelic tenor was personally requested by Eric Clapton to duet with him at his Crossroads Festival. In the late 1980s. Mark Knopfler asked him to join Dire Straits. Gill elected to stay the country course.

Twenty Grammys later, he put on a clinic showcasing his speed, delicate textures, chicken pickin' and outright shredding. The show was performed in a 100- year-old amphitheater. Already slated for a major structural rehabilitation project, the venue's budget may need to be increased after Gill rocked the house for 2 hours.

He warmed up his signature Telecaster on the rocking opener Last Chance. His voice then soared on Never Alone, which he co-wrote with Roseanne Cash 30 years ago.

Gill is a style chameleon. His ability to play different techniques is evident throughout the show. From the foot stomping rockabilly of Old Time Fiddle to the bluegrass number High Lonesome Sound, he constantly demonstrated his versatility.

His charming anecdotes endear him to the crowd. Having recently turned 55, he recounted a sobering experience at Denny's where he realized he qualified for the senior menu.

Later, he told the story behind the Grammy nominated Threaten Me with Heaven. Co-writer Will Owsley took his life shortly after the song's completion. As a tribute, he took Owlsey's son to the awards show. They anxiously awaited the song of the year category. "And then they said 'Taylor Swift.' You can imagine how much I ate that night," he quipped. That is Gill in a nutshell: a salt of the earth caretaker, surrogate father and an ability to laugh at the weight issue he has always been self-conscious about.

He closed with a scorching version of Oklahoma Borderline which drew another raucous standing ovation from the packed house.

Gill's songwriting themes range from love and loss to God and infidelity. Steeped in traditional arrangement and instrumentation, specifically the pedal steel and fiddle, the show refreshingly had an authentic, classic country feel, an element truly lacking in many contemporary artists' shows.